Who will inspect the inspectors? – Flawed OIG inspections at RFE/RL and BBG miss serious problems
BBG Watch Commentary
The January 2013 Office of Inspector General’s report “Inspection of the Broadcasting Board of Governors” has come under intense criticism as unprofessional, incomplete, and one-sided. The inspectors blindly sided with the BBG’s International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB or BBG/IBB) senior executive staff against presidentially-appointed members of the Board of Governors and, even more outrageously, against BBG’s rank-and-file employees. The BBG employees’ union American Federation of Government Employees, Local 1812, immediately published a rebuttal to the OIG Report, calling it “Hatchet Job.”
The OIG inspection report on the BBG was also criticized by the independent and nonpartisan media freedom advocacy NGO, the Committee for U.S. International Broadcasting (CUSIB – cusib.org) for its unwarranted attack on the authority and legitimate oversight duties of BBG members and their responsibilities to American taxpayers.
It somehow escaped the inspectors’ attention that BBG/IBB senior staffers, whose comments appear to have been copied and pasted into the report, were rated in regular Office of Personnel Management (OPM) employee surveys as the worst managers in the Federal Government.
It is they (BBG/IBB), rather than the Board of Governors (also not without problems) who are largely responsible for the BBG being a dysfunctional agency. The International Broadcasting Bureau is led by Richard Lobo, who despite dismal OPM assessments has approved outstanding performance bonuses for his top executives, some as high as $10,000. His top aides include Deputy IBB Director Jeff Trimble, Director of Strategy and Development Bruce Sherman, and Acting General Counsel Paul Kollmer-Dorsey.
Incredibly, the OIG inspectors did not find any waste, fraud and abuse at the BBG, an agency with a budget of over $720 million, or any problems with how the IBB executive staff manages the agency’s business and tries to undermine and weaken the Board’s authority.
Nor did the OIG inspectors find any waste, fraud, abuse and mismanagement at Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), one of the BBG’s grantees, during an earlier, equally cursory and unprofessional inspection. For that report, they copied and pasted self-serving comments from RFE/RL president Steven Korn’s self-aggrandizing memos. They completely missed media outrage in the region over the discriminatory treatment of RFE/RL foreign-born employees. Subsequently, Steven Korn was forced to resign after creating what some describe as the greatest crisis in the history of U.S. international broadcasting with his mass firing of Radio Liberty journalists in Moscow, including employees with disabilities.
While much of the Radio Liberty crisis happened after the report on the inspection of RFE/RL had been written, the inspectors missed earlier dismissals at RFE/RL of “old white guys,” a term used against them by Steven Korn, increases in housing allowances for him and his top associates, his prolonged absences from his office in Prague, and business class plane travel by RFE/RL executives. We understand that Prague is a beautiful city to visit, but U.S. taxpayers expect a little more real work from the OIG.
Not surprisingly, OIG inspectors later missed a host of similar serious management problems at the BBG. Instead they launched an unprecedented attack on a BBG member, Ambassador Victor Ashe, who was doing the job they should have done — trying to get information about these longterm problems, expose them, protect BBG employees, and save U.S. taxpayers’ money. For doing his duty to his country and American taxpayers, he was vilified, and other BBG members were also singled out and condemned for trying to make the BBG more effective and a better place for journalists and other employees to work. While there were some good points and recommendations in both RFE/RL and BBG inspection reports, they were on the whole deeply flawed, woefully incomplete and suspiciously biased in favor of some of the worst executives and managers in the Federal Government and its grantees.
Deputy Chief Inspector Harold W. Geisel, who signed off on both RFE/RL and BBG reports, should carefully review them, revise them or order new inspections and assign them to different inspectors. After reading the excellent description of the duties of his office, we have a slight hope that he will see the problem and agree with us. At the very least, Ambassador Geisel should order an immediate inspection of the International Broadcasting Bureau (BBG/IBB). Better yet, he should inspect the inspectors. Otherwise, he should resign, as suggested by one of our analysts.
The analysis “Who Will Inspect The Inspectors?” was written by an expert closely familiar with the Broadcasting Board of Governors and the International Broadcasting Bureau. Because of the author’s current status, the author wants to remain anonymous.
Who Will Inspect The Inspectors?
“In the 1949 musical comedy ‘The Inspector General,’ Danny Kaye plays a wandering gypsy who’s mistakenly thought by a small village to be the inspector general in disguise. Not wanting all the attention to end, he asks a confidante, “What does an Inspector General do…inspect generals?” – from OIG website.
In reading the January 2013 Office of Inspector General’s report titled Inspection of Broadcasting Board of Governors, I come away feeling very disappointed in the OIG and Deputy Chief Inspector Harold W. Geisel. The entire report is obviously agenda driven by the Senior Management team at the BBG’s International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB or BBG/IBB), who appear to not want any oversight from the Board of Governors, but instead want a compliant Board who will rubber stamp whatever is placed in front of them. In fact, if you removed the cut and pasted narrative of the text into a separate document without any mention of the OIG and placed it in front of any member of the rank and file in the Cohen Building, the staff would sit around speculating how it could have been written by Jeff Trimble, Bruce Sherman or some other high-ranking IBB executive.
This becomes abundantly clear on Page 1 of the report when you see the fourth Key Judgment:
“Although the legislation establishing the responsibilities of the Governors is clear, regarding the boundary between supervision and day-to-day management, individual Governors have interpreted the law differently and determined their own fiduciary responsibilities, which has in turn impeded normal management functions.”
It is clear from this language that the driving force behind the report are those individuals to whom the Board is a nuisance, and not those who should be representing the interest of the U.S. taxpayer.
If you read the list of Key Judgments, they seem to cover all of the Board Members evenly, but when you get into the meat of the text, it becomes apparent that the inspectors and IBB/Staff are colluding to ensure various members of the Board ofGovernors are marginalized and not re-nominated to serve another term when President Obama and Congress get around to creating the make-up of the next Board. All of the ills and so called “dysfunction” of the Board are then lain completely on the shoulders of the one Governor, Victor Ashe, who seems to be the biggest thorn in the side of IBB/BBG management.
Why, according the OIG report is current Board an impediment to the success of U.S. International Broadcasting? Let us parse the report and find out.
1. Governors Ashe and Meehan have pulled back their support of the 5 year Strategic Plan that included the controversial consolidation. What the OIG inspectors would have everyone believe is that the plan had universal approval, when in fact there were concerns from the beginning. The scope of the plan, the costs associated with it, the ability of getting Congressional approval were all issues of concern. As time passed and itbecame apparent that some of the elements of the plan were not feasible, there should have been a move to adjust or redirect the plan. Instead the IBB/BBG management seeing their dream of increasing control over all the broadcast entities decided to push for the CEO position to take power away from the Governors and limit oversight of their activities. The IBB/BBG staff would have a large amount of input into recruiting the position and view having a compliant CEO as much easier to manage.
Message to the OIG, all Board Members have the right to adjust their thinking when new information becomes available.
2. Governors accused of favoring the entities on whose individual boards they serve as well. This is the first time Governors Meehan and Ashe are singled out in the report by title, if not name. Per the report it appears the advocating for or against an issue that directly affects an entity on whose Board you also serve is bad. This is a specious argument, as those members of the Board who perform both functions will have a greater familiarity with the effects of the decision on said entity and can provide better insight as to the consequences of the vote.
Message to the OIG, if your recommendation is accepted to remove sitting Governors from the Boards of RFA and MBN, doesn’t the legislation mandating different treatment for RFE/RL ensure they have a competitive advantage in all future budgetary and strategic issues brought in front of the Board. Your recommendation should not be adopted until all entities are treated as equals.
3. Governors are admonished for time and attendance, which is as it should be. It is glaring indictment of the report that in this instance it lacks more specificity as to the identities of the biggest offender are. Perhaps these governors are more politically connected than Ashe and Meehan who have already been outted in the report. More interesting is the curious case of Governor Mulhaupt, also Chairman of RFE/RL’s Board, who missed his first meeting in November claiming to have pressing business in California, but who was seen that day roaming the halls of RFE/RL’s offices in Washington D.C. looking for Steve Korn, who also begged out of the meeting due to pressing business, but who as far as anyone knows was not in D.C. at the time.
Message to the OIG, if you are going to smear individuals in your reports, then do so across the board. To treat them differently is to give the impression of favoritism.
4. Governors are accused of not standing by their previous decisions, which is not something that requires criticism, as said before, this should be lauded. Once again the OIG brings up the five year plan, which is now several years old, and like all five year plans throughout history, no longer addresses the realities of the real world. They then cite a second example of the FY2014 budget which was delayed because the entity heads wanted a chance to address issues within the budget. This makes perfect sense, should the Board of Governors submit a flawed financial plan to the OMB, because a cancelation in July left little time for review?
Message to the OIG, decisions made in a vacuum rarely lead to positive outcomes, since circumstances seen and unseen often cause the need for flexibility.
5. The Governors are accused of being the ones of leaking information to the outside world, but there are other individuals who attend the meeting who may be leaking as well. Most notably members of the IBB/BBG Staff who are the ones who benefit from a weakened Board.
Message to the OIG, every stakeholder in any business has an agenda making leaks inevitable. Do you recommend monthly witch hunts to root out the leakers? Is this an efficient use of taxpayer money?
6. One Governor, Victor Ashe, is then singled out by referring to his prior position as Mayor of Knoxville. He is then accused of using insulting and intimidating behavior to IBB/BBG Staff. This may be due to the fact the IBB/BBG Staff believe that the Governors work for them, and not the U.S. taxpayer. Meanwhile, Governor Ashe is pursuing what he feels is his responsibility to protect the personnel of U.S.I.B. (those pesky employees and contractors who actually do the job of producing and delivering content to the world), while being a good steward of the taxpayers’ money.
Message to the OIG, a contrarian opinion is not necessarily the wrong one. Substantive debates often lead to better decisions than group think.
7. Governor Ashe is then maligned again for not going through Director Lobo of the IBB with his requests for information. Further to this the OIG report then questions the value of the requests made by the Governor for upholding his fiduciary responsibilities. One must ask whether they spoke with the Governor to ask why he needed the information? Or why he did not go through the Director? The answer to the former may have enlightened them into his decision making process and validated the questions. The latter may have been a simple, DirectorLobo appears to be much too busy to respond, so after waiting a requisite amount of time, he asks for the information he believes he needs to make informed decisions.
Message to the OIG, there are two sides to every story, even a hit piece like your report. Journalistic standards require you attempt to get both of them, it appears that Inspectors do not have this requirement, and that they should.
From the review of the OIG Inspection Report on the Broadcasting Board of Governors, it is clear that this was an agenda driven inspection designed to weaken an already weak Board of Governors with the intent of further empowering IBB/BBG Senior Managers. I do not know if this was just a bit of professional courtesy between two government agencies working against those considered to be private sector. Or maybe it is a bit more sinister, where a member of the IBB/BBG or RFE/RL senior staff has an undisclosed prior relationship with someone in the OIG office they could then convince to help them in their desire to accumulate more power. In any case, Deputy Chief Inspector should investigate his own team, and discipline those who convinced him to sign this report. If he in fact actually read it, then he should resign because he does not have the judgment necessary to do his job.
Finally, inquiring minds want to know when the inspection of the BBG’s International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB or BBG/IBB) is going to take place? An organization that is actually as dysfunctional as the Board of Governors is purported to be really needs to be reviewed. Its annual place at the bottom of the employee satisfaction in the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) surveys should be reason enough. In fact, had the inspectors truly been interested in obtaining information relating to the Board of Governors’ effectiveness, they would have done more interviews with junior staffers at BBG/IBB who under the cloak of anonymity would likely reveal where the true problem in the system is really located.
Instead you tried to make “monkeys” out of all of us.